December 5, 2016

7 months and counting

Good lord, I could have almost produced another human life in the amount of time that I have been injured!  Seven months and counting since that fateful day where I went for a totally normal run and thought, 'hmm, that's an odd pain in my groin'.  There has been a serious lack of blog posts since then as by and large I reserve my blog posts for race summaries and recaps and other than one 10k race and a 3km/ 800m hill climb (both in September, both for fun) there has been no racing in recent months.  But I guess I am due to post an update.

10k race in September with taped leg that didn't feel great afterwards.

So what's the injury?  Ah ha!  The million dollar question!  I don't know.  Yes, that's right - after seven months of weekly Dr and physio visits there is still no real definite answer to this.  At various times, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes in seemingly random rotation, I've had groin pain, adductor pain, inner quad pain and knee pain.  Am I incapacitated and in agony?  No.  Can I run without discomfort and normal volume?  No.  My longest run since BMO Vancouver marathon in May is about 22km.  I used to run more than that day in day out.  Maybe that's the problem, maybe I've just run out of miles in my legs?  I don't know and I kind of doubt it, but many days I believe that.  I've had some 80 - 100km weeks with only annoying discomfort but I've never had a stretch of pain free running and certainly never got anywhere close to my previous usual of 160kms or so per week.  It's like my body has just decided to quit running.  I've recently taken a week off and then tried 3 x 30 to 40 min jogs over the space of 5 days, I've still got niggling pains.

I don't want to make this a pity party and nor do I want to use Dave Mackey as a benchmark for everything, but let's just say - I've not had to have a leg amputated.  Yes, Dave has and if you don't know him and need some perspective on life, then read this.  We're cheering for you all the way Mr. Mackey! He's just going about life being himself but he doesn't need to do anything else to be hugely inspiring - both in past years and now.

Dave and I, American River 50, 2011?
Needless to say I have zero race plans for 2017.  I cannot plan when I cannot go for regular runs pain free.  If I can get to moderate volume and pain free I'll toe a line and happily run mid pack, but I'm not there yet.  Besides, ultra race plans can become tricky when you have zero qualifiers for an awful lot of races.  I've got an invite for a half marathon in February, I would like to run that but realise that it likely won't happen.  My oh my, and to think I used to run ultras.

Most of all this is a post to update but also give out some thank yous and hugs.  I have seen many medical professionals who have gone above and beyond to try fix me.  Dr. Jim Bovard does not give up and that is a very valuable quality in a sport medicine Dr because there are times that the athlete wants to give up.  He hasn't let me.  I've seen three highly qualified physios - Chris Napier, Marilou Lamy and Carolyn Bliss.  The sort of physios who see you in their own home on their day off or lend you their own personal core shorts to see if they can help.  More recently I have also seen Dr. Jean Gillies who examined me from head to foot and had to show me how to get out of her building when it was all locked up as the appointment had gone way beyond clinic hours.  It's back to more physio tomorrow to look at a slightly new angle.

More thank yous should go to my sponsors: Salomon, Clif Bar, Drymax Socks, Flora Health and Sundog Eyewear.  I would understand if any one of them dropped me as ultimately I was signed to represent them through running and racing, something I'm not doing an awful lot of right now, but they are still here with me and I truly appreciate that.

A huge thank you should also go to Michelle Ford.  Michelle is a friend and personal trainer who I have worked with since the start of this year (pre-injury).  She's challenged me with tough but fun workouts and modified things when needed to work around the various aches and pains.  I might not be running fit right now but I am decently strong thanks to Michelle.

The hugs should go to Abby Zoomer and Anne-Marie Madden.  AZ tolerated a very slow cyclist over the summer months and now the snow has started to fall, we've had some fun snowshoe hiking adventures at a less than brisk pace.  Dr. AMM is not only a very smart Doc but most importantly she is a very good friend who is there for advice, hiking and runs when I feel able to try that, despite having a very busy schedule of her own.  Thank you you two for being awesome!

My longest and most fun run since May with two superstars :)

I would say roll on 2017 but who knows what 2017 will bring.  But I will wish you all a super time over the holiday season and good luck in your races for next year (especially to my super Sharman Ultra Coaching clients who have made me very proud with some excellent results this year!).

As I coach online it's always fun to meet clients in person rather than on Skype.  With Steve in The Lakes, April 2016.

October 14, 2016

Team Red White & Blue Trail Running Camp

Liza demonstrating how to deal with problems on the trail ... problems are always more manageable when wearing an octopus hat:)

This past weekend I had the honour in attending the Team Red White & Blue trail running camp in Rocksprings, Texas.  I was lucky enough to be asked to take part by fellow Sharman Ultra coach, Liza Howard who is one of the main organsiers behind this annual camp - she assured me that I didn't need to do much other than show up, be enthusiastic and chat trail running - well, I think I could manage that!

As explained on their website the Team RWB trail running camp is 'a camp of learning about the sport of trail running and the joys of the active life. A camp to help veterans reintegrate and reconnect with the civilian life. A camp to showcase community, compassion, and the connectivity of all of us'.  As someone who is neither American nor at all involved with the military it was a little step into the unknown for me, but as soon as we arrived at Camp Eagle (some two hours drive outside of San Antonio, TX) I knew it would be a super weekend.  The camp was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and yet we had all that we needed - comfortable bunk cabins, great food and plenty of trails to explore, and a somewhat unreliable wifi connection to ensure we could stay connected with the outside world when needs be, but on a very minimal basis.  Perfect.

Chris - friendly giant and group B leader - educating our pack mid trail.

Discussing trail techniques on the run.

The campers and mentors were split into 4 groups based in running ability, but there were plenty of times throughout the weekend that the groups mixed so it never felt that we were divided based on how fast or how 'good' a runner you were.  I was with group B (purple power!) - runners who had some running and likely trail experience but certainly not folks who were big time ultra runners.  Sure some had run a few 50ks or so, but had maybe then taken a break, or some had never put their running shoes on a trail but were quite experienced road runners.  It was such a delight to see folks learn about technical trail running skills, tentatively jog down a rocky trail and then most of all see their smiles at the end of each day as they slowly learned more and more and gained confidence with what they could do.  But just as much time was spent in workshops as on the trail - how to run downhill, how to run uphill, nutrition for running, strength training, and so the list goes on.  More often than not I felt like I was the one learning too, through great discussions and presentations with experts like Liza Howard, Alison & Jason Bryant, Meredith Terranova, Joe Uhan and others.  Of course, it is never possible to cover everything over the space of three days but certainly the camp equipped participants with the basic knowledge and tools to take back to their own regional chapters of Team RWB.

Matt Hart and Mike Ehredt, camp mentors, leading the pack.
Google this man.  Mike Ehredt.  He's run the length and breadth of the USA ... and planted a flag every mile to commemorate those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He's a super person too.
The whole experience has certainly 'sold' me on the Team RWB concept - such a great community!  It also showed me the value of trail running camps in general.  Whilst there are numerous books out there, websites to read and races to run, nothing can quite replace that hands on experience of just hanging out with a bunch of runners all weekend.  In North Vancouver, where I live, I think that runners can often be spoiled with the access to training groups, trail running clinics etc but many folks live in parts of the country where there is not such a strong and established trail running community, and for runners like those especially a camp like Team RWB trail running camp is invaluable to aquire skills, make connections and inspire each other to reach for bigger goals

We all made it down that trail ... with no spills!

Final morning run, a chance to say goodbye to some super trails and some super people.

Beautiful Camp Eagle in Texas Hill Country

This is BAD running form ... drop those shoulders, Ellie!  But the trail was a treat.

With fellow Sharman Ultra coaches and camp mentors, Sean Meissner and Liza Howard.

June 2, 2016

Dreams are made to be broken.

I remember the night of the workout.  It was my usual weekly VFAC trail interval session on a Thursday evening in Stanley Park.  It was late April and so the light was lasting a little longer and the weather was getting a little more enjoyable, and certainly far better than the winter months where we hammer our way through fast interval sets in the pitch black and all too often pouring rain.  I'd started to have a few decent workouts and that week I just rocked up as normal, put my head down and tried to hang onto the t-shirt tails of my club mates as we stormed our way through the undulating ups and downs of the repeats.  It's the highlight of my week.  The first repeat was fast, the second was really fast, the third ... well I slowed a little but wow, I felt strong, I felt fit and I could tell by whom I was keeping up to that I was fast.  Later than evening I was tucked up in bed with tea and Coach John texted, 'that was by FAR your best workout ever'.  I've been a member of VFAC for eight years.  I wasn't excited that this was 5 1/2 weeks pre-Comrades, I was just excited about that workout.  Man, it was fun.

Ten days later I ran BMO Vancouver Marathon is 2:45 something.  I fielded messages of congrats from friends in person and online - 'wow, so fast!', 'top Canadian!', '3rd woman!'.  I'd politely say 'thank you' but honesty I was disappointed with my race.  Maybe I'd though I was fitter than I was?   Maybe I'd set my targets too high?  Even although BMO was not a goal race in itself and just meant to be a hard long run fours weeks before Comrades I was convinced that with the shape I was in that a 2:45 marathon should have felt far easier than that did.  It was honestly one of my roughest marathons ever, but I chalked it down to lack of proper taper, took a day off and then started to ease back into running ... except I didn't.  With each passing day I ran less, I hobbled more and the pain would move variously from SI to hip to quad to adductor to knee.  At least it kept my physio, Chris Napier, busy and so he would work away and squeeze me in for one extra visit after another.  In between I hit the bike hard and the BCMC (an 800m hike over 2.5k with gondola ride down) like it was my second home.  I kept on top of yoga and strength work (which I had diligently done two times a week each since early January, you know ... to help avoid injury) and the day I was due to fly out to Africa I saw Chris, I was pain free so he suggested a 20 minute confidence boosting run.  It shattered my dreams - I got on the plane limping that evening because I'd run for 20 mins at a 5 min/ km.

And so that is a brief story of what led me not to be at the start line of my most favourite race in the World.  I continued with thorough physio and short run/ hobbles when in South Africa but when the Nedbank manager, Nick Bester, phoned me 6 days before the race I heard the words come out of my mouth 'I definiltey can't race on Sunday'.  I felt uneasy with those words as by then I was walking pain free, so to be sure I ran 3 loops of the perimeter of the safari camp we were staying at at 5am the next day - well, no - I once again hobbled the 4k that made up those 3 loops with odd looks from German tourists and finally gave up hope.

As of now I still have no idea what really the issue is.  I will be seeing my sports medicine doctor tomorrow and physio Chris again on Monday to really try delve deep into what is going on.  I have not run in 8 days and will try a short jog tomorrow before going to see the doctor to be sure the pain is still there - I know it will be, I mean I stepped sideways to avoid someone opening a door into my face the other day and even that wrenched the hip flexor.  Don't get me wrong, it's not agonising pain but it's enough to make me run with even worse form than I normally do and to want to turn up my music to try distract me from the discomfort.

Anyone who knows me knows The Comrades means the world to me.  Last year, after the bike accident and interrupted training, I placed a disappointing 6th.  I was under no illusions that I would win again this year - sure, I would do my darn hardest to try - but more than anything I just wanted to improve on that 6th place.  Who knew that looking back now I'd have been gosh delighted with 6th this year, heck - if I'd had just made it to the finish line that would have been better than not starting at all.

Who knows when I'll get back on track, I hope it's sooner rather than later as fundamentally I don't think this is a serious issue - it just needs the right treatment and adjustments and rehab work.  There are of course more races I'd had on my calendar for this year so hopefully I can be ready for those.

With huge thanks to:

- Chris Napier of Restore Physiotherapy
- Nick Bester of Nedbank Running Club (for making me useful over the Comrades weekend).
- Gillian James - Sports Scientist in White River, South Africa.
- My sponsors - Salomon, Sundog, Clif Bar, Drymax, Flora - I hope I can be back toeing the line for you all soon.
- Max King - my sounding board who so very tried to keep me on track with my training.
- My friends and family.

Happy trails
x Ellie
Kruger National Park, South Africa.

With the North American Nedbank runners.  Cassie, Sarah, Traci, Max & Zach.

Oh yeah - I helped with the SABC live TV commentary on race day.  That was fun!  The pros Helen, Bruce and Arnaud at work.

Aha!  Maybe it was getting trampled by a rhino that is causing me leg pain!

Hippo watching post breakfast with Ma & Pa.

With the wonderful France, 1992 Comrades winner.

When you are injured it seems everyone around you is running ... even elephants!

April 14, 2016

Salomon Advanced Week

For quite a few years Salomon has been holding an 'Advanced Week' every April where they get a group of us runners together to spend time with the shoe and apparel designers from Salomon HQ in Annecy, France to talk shop.  Well, ok - it's not all talk, it's a good amount of running too - trying out prototype shoes, testing new hydration packs and all in all working together to come up with the best products imaginable for the running market in years to come.

Last week I was invited to attend Advance Week in sunny Mallorca, Spain, a trip I ultimately didn't make due to a last minute appointment for hard surgery so I did have to laugh when I got the email that this years Advance Week was to be held in the notoriously rainy Lake District, UK.  Well, at least it being scheduled in a not so tropical environment would guarantee no bike accidents or injuries this year!

Overlooking Keswick.
Despite originally being from the UK I had spent very little time in the Lake District in the past so it was a real treat to get to stay in Keswick for 6 nights and explore the surrounding fells wearing our trusty Salomons.  We had a great community event on the Thursday where folks came out to watch various Salomon Running TV films, listen to Kilian Jornet and Seb Montaz banter about their worldwide mountain adventures together, and then go for a group run where we had about 200 local (and not so local) runners show up on a beautiful sunny spring evening.

But for me the highlight of the week was taking part in my first fell race ever.  As someone who is a little more acquainted with non-technical ultra running I checked first with one of the local Salomon guys that he didn't think I'd be dead last on the 13k course with 975m of gain that is the Coledale Horseshoe.  Matt assured me that I would not be last, which was comforting given the course was unmarked so I was going to need to follow the locals in front!  Having spent the week doing more vertical running that I am used to (as well as some sneaky road sessions to keep the regular training up) needless to say the legs were not very fresh for the race on our last day in the area but that didn't matter as the Salomon runners were all there simply to have fun and take part.  It was also great to chat with locals, including Phil and Mark who had spent much of their time in the previous few days showing us around their fells (thanks guys) and just be part of a low key, fun community race.  I certainly hope it won't be my last fell race and would sign up for another in an instant - if only in Canada they didn't make us stick to marked trails :)

Overall, I've come away from Advanced Week with sky high motivation and with a clear understanding of why Salomon are in many ways the leaders in the trail running market.  Everyone involved with Salomon is passionate and 110% dedicated to what they do.  'Making do' is not an attitude they comprehend, 'making better' is a philosophy they live every day.

I hope you enjoy some of the photos below which go someway towards showing how spectacular the Lake District is and how fun our week was.

Happy training.

Subtle fell colours on a grey, rainy, hail storm of a day.

Keswick community run with my Sharman Ultra coaching client, Steve.

Even road running is pretty in the Lake District

On a closed road these wooly locals were my only road running companions.

Coledale Horseshoe.  That was fun!  Photo: Philipp Reiter.

Mira, Yngvild, myself, Anna and Martina: Team Salomon!  Photo: Philipp Reiter

Warming up with Anna.  Photo: Philipp Reiter.

With Flora team mates, Anna and Max.  Photo: Rickey Gates.

There's lot of work to do to improve my fell running skills ;)  Photo: Tristan Reid.
Thanks for guiding us around Phil & Mark!  With Felix, Greg, Max, Francois and Ryan.

Salomon Keswick community run
With Mira Rai, Salomon team mate from Nepal.  Check out her new film at

How's that for a race finish line?  Coledale Horseshoe.
Max & Micha tagged the fell and then came back down to find this slack asser still working her way up ;)

March 21, 2016

The Chuckanut Tradition

This past weekend I raced Chuckanut 50k in Bellingham, Washington for the 6th time.  I am sure this is by far the most times that I have run any one race but it's not without reason.  Chuckanut is a short drive over the US border from Vancouver, it's at a great time of year to check in exactly where my fitness is at, there are always so many friends racing and cheering, plus I just love the course.

The course is reasonably non-technical (well in my opinion) but it mixes in a little bit of everything - you better have brought your road wheels if you want to blast the first and final 10k which are fast and furious miles (or should be) but don't forget your climbing legs for the switchbacks up Fragrance Lake trails and for the seemingly never ending Cleator Road, and then there is the fabulous fun of the Ridge Trail where you negotiate rocks and roots whilst admiring the views of Mt Baker and Chuckanut bay.  I love it.

As I blasted through the aid station before the climb up Cleator Road (in 2nd place) I just about heard RD Krissy (Moehl) say, 'You know how to run this race Ellie', and well - yes, after now 5 wins I can play the strategy pretty well.  I had expected Cleator Road to be a slog - it wasn't.  Sure I ran and then I power hiked and then I ran again but I was happy to keep up with friends Anne Marie and Ramsey and the others who were forming our fun and friendly little pack.  I expected Chinscraper to seem long and tough, and once again I did hike sections but I felt strong and in control and was having fun (and now in the lead).

And well, once we got to the final 14km or so which is all downhill or flat, I started hauling - a 3:33/km down Cleator Road, hurtling round the corners of the switchbacks of Fragrance Lake trail with joyful abandon, and then 10kms of hunting down the final stretch of the Interurban trail.  I pride myself on knowing how to 'close' on the Chuckanut course and I think I passed 5 men on that final 10k, putting me 12th overall and 1st female by the time I hugged Krissy at the finish line.

My time of 4:11:58 is within seconds of my 2012 finishing time but the most important thing is that I felt strong.  All day I was just solid - in a great head space, having fun and chatting, running hard but in control, and even down that final 10k if I'd had to chase another woman I know I could have gone just a notch harder (and yes, I did do a few shoulder checks just to be sure!)

I've switched things up a little in 2016 so far - the mileage has been good but not crazy, but I've gone to yoga stretching two times every darn week since start of January.  I have seen a trainer at the gym (Michelle Ford/ Peak Power - good luck at Zion 100 miler in 3 weeks!) most weeks since January, and even this stubborn runner has listened to her coach ... well, about 95% of the time ;) Whilst all this has not resulted in a faster Chuckanut time, it has resulted in an injury free and consistent training year so far, and feeling much stronger and less beat up post race than I have in the past.  I feel very happy with where I am at right now.

A huge thank you as always to RD Krissy and her team of amazing volunteers for putting on such an excellent event, thank you too to Abby Zoomer - trusty crew and friend for looking after weekend logistics and just being super company, and thank you to my sponsors for their ongoing support:  Salomon (I wore the S-Lab X-Series as the trails were dry),  Drymax Socks (I wore the ELLIE sock of course!), Clif Bar (8 gels on course), Sundog Eyewear (I wore the Switch model - see photo for discount code on your purchases!), Flora Health (make sure you visit their booth which is always at the the race finish).

If you really are a data geek, then here are my stats on Strava.

Onwards and upwards to the next race!

Yes, this is a genuine sunglasses offer - no spam ;)

With RD and ultrarunner extraordinaire, Krissy Moehl.  Photo: Abby Zoomer.

Enjoying the descents.  Photo: Candice Ridyard.
Canadian Chicks - 2nd, 6th, 1st, and Abby Zoomer who coordinated the girls weekend ;)

Enjoying some Flora tea in my winning mug post race.  Photo: Catrin Jones.

With my ever enthusiastic Sharman Ultra coaching client, Miruna at the finish.  Photo: Relu Harau.

Start line seriousness.  Photo: Relu Harau.
Tranquil Lake Samish.  Photo: self.

Sunday recovery run at a blistering pace with AM, Catrin and Mike.  Photo: Abby Zoomer.